Development broadcasting in India and beyond: redefining an old mandate in an age of media globalization.

Author:Fursich, Elfriede

The advent of commercial satellite television has changed the media landscape in many Asian countries that primarily had state-run broadcasting systems. As a result, long-established broadcasters have been forced to reassess their role in a newly competitive market. This study examines the fate of one of the central practices of Third World media--the development model of broadcasting--in the face of an increasingly globalized and commercial media environment.

Specifically, this study of India's public broadcaster, Doordarshan (DD), explains how the broadcaster has been struggling to respond to transformations in the media environment. It details how its past mandate of development broadcasting has come under severe pressure as DD competes with many new satellite and cable channels offering audiences ever more choices. Beyond evaluating the Indian situation, this investigation challenges entrenched assumptions about the current demise of development broadcasting and proposes a new model of it in a competitive and globalizing media world.

Using the Indian broadcasting situation as an example has the advantage that this evaluation can be based on one of the most intensely studied media systems in the developing world. Numerous scholars have contributed to the analysis of the impact of media globalization and commercialization on Indian society and culture over the last 15 years (e.g., Crabtree & Malhotra, 2000; Manchanda, 1998; McMillin, 2003; Nanjundaiah, 1995; Rajagopal, 1996). Such in-depth work allows the authors to move a step further to a meta-analysis of these trends with regard to the impact on development broadcasting.

After an overview of the past and current situation of development broadcasting in general, DD's specific approaches to this type of broadcasting are analyzed. Findings show that DD's decision to compete with commercial broadcasters' offerings came at the cost of ignoring the constituencies and subjects it most needs to focus on. In trying to become a competitive player among the domestic and global channels, it has found itself financially challenged and, in many instances, in the role of a follower rather than a leader. The analysis then draws attention to some problematic assumptions and arguments shared in the scholarly debate surrounding its future. Finally, some solutions are proposed for an alternative model of development broadcasting. This study advocates a new type of development broadcasting that establishes a distinct brand with regard to content and identity and plays an important role in creating an informed citizenry.

Television and Development

Over the last 50 years the impetus for many third-world countries to venture into the cost-intensive development of an independent television system was driven by the perceived importance of broadcasting to national development. Starting in the 1950s and throughout the Cold War, both media scholars in the West and media planners in the third world justified and theorized the significance of broadcasting in the development process for an increasing number of countries gaining independence. In the United States, communication scholars such as Daniel Lerner, Wilbur Schramm (Lerner & Schramm, 1967), and Everett Rogers (1962) based in the dominant paradigm stressed that these new developing countries needed broadcasting to establish a sense of national identity and to support modernization projects and campaigns.

Likewise, in countries under the influence of the Soviet Union, the Marxist-Leninist model of journalism as an educational force supported the idea of the media as a means for development (Cambridge, 2002). Even countries in the nonaligned movement such as India favored the development focus of the media. In general, as Eko (2003) explained:

Media were to concentrate on the task of disseminating information and messages that would improve agricultural production, health, education, national security and other vital areas ... based on the assumption that the mass media had very powerful, direct, and immediate effects on listeners and viewers. (pp. 178-179) The United Nations, especially its subdivision UNESCO, became the major international champion of development media projects.

Yet after many years of naive celebration of the importance of broadcasting for modernization, dependency theorists, especially in Latin America, successfully challenged the paradigm (for an overview see Cambridge, 2002; Reeves, 1993). Dependency theorists argued that many of these systems were government controlled, overly dependent on Western programming, and furthering the interests of the political elites, while limiting national forms of expression and the development of a national identity.

The dissatisfaction over the overdependence on Western commercial media output culminated in the controversial UNESCO McBride Report and resulted in a call for a new world information order (Hamelink, 1980; Vincent, Nordenstreng, & Traber, 1999). Yet the end of the Cold War and the neoliberal turn in the late 20th century along with intensified economic globalization seemed to make international communication policy efforts obsolete. Communication has become part of international trade agreements as opposed to political initiatives, as Hamelink (2002) pointed out. At the same time, international trade negotiations have favored deregulation and encouraged or coerced developing countries to privatize their communication infrastructure and to allow commercial units to compete against formerly state-run institutions (Thussu, 2000).

As a result, most state-owned broadcasters in the developing world were forced to adjust to a mixed economic model that included advertising and dwindling state subsidies. The new commercial media environment led to a proliferation of stations, shows, and formats, coupled with a fragmentation of audiences, and a new advertising-driven focus on affluent urban audiences. Scholars like Sinha (1995) explained that by itself, this increase in the supply of programming did not meet the development goals of an informed citizen who has access to communication technology. As he pointed out "development is not a matter, ultimately, of expanding supplies of commodities or services, but of enhancing the capabilities of people" (p. 22). The old paradigm of development communication was relegated to the back burner.

The globalizing and commercializing media landscape in the developing world has gained increased interest among international media scholars. After years of debating the significance of cultural imperialism, much of this work has shifted to the economic details and everyday media experiences in this new "glocalized" media world (Robertson, 1995). However, this research often prioritizes the impact of change on the urban middle class (e.g., Juluri, 2003) or the relation between transnational media conglomerates and local production or other business aspects of the new system (e.g., Nordenstreng & Schiller, 1993; Shrikhande, 2001).

Although these studies have added a wealth of detailed new information on the impact of media globalization, international communication scholars seem to shy away from more general normative questions of what functions a broadcasting system should deliver to citizens of a given country--more generally, the relation between broadcasting and civic society in the developing world. Although some scholars have begun to address a different definition of public broadcasters in the West under the current pressures (Avery, 1993; Balas, 2003; McCauley, Peterson, Artz, & Halleck, 2003), the new role for (more or less) state-controlled public broadcasters in the third world has yet to find a place in scholarly debate.

This oversight is the starting point of this study. Using DD's experiences, it questions the role and potential of development broadcasting as the most significant and distinctive aspect of third-world broadcasting. This inquiry challenges not only the strategies of broadcasters and regulators but also some assumptions by academic media scholars that can be counterproductive to fleshing out a new role for development public broadcasting.

Reaction of Doordarshan to Commercial Competition

The case of DD is particularly interesting because unlike other countries where television was developed to serve the needs of a middle class that had the ability to buy television sets, in India, television began with a strong development mandate. However, beginning in the mid-1990s, DD tried to position itself as a competitor to both the international and domestic channels that offer a range of commercial programs. This strategy questions the role that public broadcasters like DD play in a multichannel, commercial environment and raises the broader issue of whether there is a future for development broadcasting in a commercialized global television environment.

India had taken an unusual position with regard to development broadcasting. Whereas most other postcolonial countries made development efforts only part of a mixed programming strategy, often relying heavily on imports from U.S. and former colonial Western partners, India focused its technological and programming innovations almost exclusively on rural educational programming and nation building. Television came to India in 1959 as a result of a fortuitous offer by the electronics company Phillips to provide a 500-watt transmitter at a low cost in conjunction with a UNESCO grant that was used to buy community television sets. These were set up in the area surrounding New Delhi and a weekly half-hour broadcast began (Butcher, 2003). By 1965 television broadcasts had become a regular daily feature. Program content was mostly developmental in nature with some news and entertainment.

Over time, state funding for DD increased. The rationale for the expense was that it was being used to promote state initiatives of progress and integration. In 1972 additional...

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